Scripture and culture


Don Carson's final chapter deals with a few applicatory issues coming out of the topic at hand. The major one is how best to communicate the gospel to Muslims and whether avoiding the title Son of God for Jesus is helpful for eliminating some of the barriers there. Having recently done some introductory studies on Islam, I feel the weight of the issue. The Quran has Jesus vehemently rejecting his title as Son of God, it is something that Muslims are explicitly taught as a Christian belief that's gravely in error. Does this mean it's a big problem for them when they read the Bible?

This issue of Bible translation highlights the same ideas explored in my first two posts. How important is it to be precise in our terminology? Roses by any other name would apparently smell just as sweet, said Shakespeare, but, if God chooses to call it a rose, what does that signify? 

This is indeed a wisdom issue, the Bible calls us to remove stumbling blocks for the proclamation of the gospel, but does removing this stumbling block become a rejection of God's chosen terms for self-revelation? Which sounds ill advised. Pragmatism in ministry methods often worries me. It's just too close to decision making on our own terms, rather than seeking God's ways. How ironic, too, that this appears to be more of a Western preoccupation (page 108). Another symptom of our loss of faith in the power of the gospel to save?

Something really clarifying that comes out of this discussion is the reminder that the Son of God title does indeed have such a wide semantic range. The concept of a trajectory, or to give this concept the more familiar term: typology, is demonstrated by reminding us of how 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 45:6-7 are applied to Jesus progressively. Carson also identifies these biblical teachings as a 'complex interplay of themes,' which helps to explain for me the ambiguity of references that I was struggling with last week. There are definitely two uses of 'Son', and this works to argue that you can't use the term Messiah for all of the passages, as some Muslim friendly translations propose. As Carson writes, the biblical affirmations of Jesus' sonship are multi-faceted. This makes the translation task much more complex. In an ideal world, as Carson suggests, it is good to provide the personnel along with the translation to explain these complexities, but that's not possible in many Muslim countries.

Carson's observation that dealing with the biblically illiterate has the potential to force a change in our language has got me thinking about what biblical language offends our culture. I didn't have to think too hard: it's submission for the feminists and rejection of homosexual practice for a large section of modern Sydney. But we ought not be ashamed of God's Word. The task we have in all these contexts is to allow Scripture to challenge our antecedent cultural understanding. And as Carson also asserts, the overcoming of such barriers shows the genuine converts from the merely interested.

Having said all that, perhaps my proposal in the previous post for God the Son to be used more often would not be the best option in most Muslim contexts? I'm happy to concede that.